Why I Love Patreon

patreon bannerPatreon is a relative newcomer in the crowdfunding arena. It’s only been around for three years, and less than a year in its current design incarnation. It’s growing rapidly, however, and for excellent reason. Unlike other crowdfunding platforms that operate on a strictly per-project basis, Patreon permits creators to fund their creative work on a subscription model. Patreon is, therefore, the first platform that offers the possibility of gift-model crowdfunding. That makes all the difference in the world – for me, and for a growing number of artists who have, at long last, found a viable path toward leaving behind their day jobs to focus on their creative work. If gift-model crowdfunding had been an option when I was starting out as a freelance writer, my career might have taken an entirely different trajectory.

When I first heard about Patreon in July 2014, I was immediately overcome with excitement. Here was something I’d long hoped and wished for; it almost sounded too good to be true. A breathless snippet from my personal journal that month reads:

“I see 22,719 likes on Patreon’s Facebook page, but none of my artist friends have liked it there yet. I wonder why? This could change so many artists’ lives!”

Earlier this year I launched my first Patreon account to support my writing, and although I’m still getting a foothold, it has already started changing my life.

How do I love thee, Patreon? Let me count the ways.

I love Patreon because…

…it’s the only crowdfunding platform that works on a gift model for patron and creator alike.

Most crowdfunding platforms are project-based. When the project is complete, the funding from project backers ends. Patreon’s subscription model, by contrast, allows for ongoing funding of a creative practice. Patreon can be used in project-based ways too, of course, but the key difference for me – the choice Patreon offers that isn’t available elsewhere – is that the subscription option permits creators to work completely within a gift model.

What that means, in my case, is that all the funds I receive from my patrons are gifts. They don’t need to be tethered to the release of a specific piece of writing, since I’m not required to sell my work in order to participate.

While there is a mutual understanding that there will be reciprocity over the long term – I am, after all, a writer, and this is arts patronage – my patrons are not purchasing anything from me. A purchase is something I’m obligated to honor by delivering a product or service to someone who’s paid me for it. Gifts I can accept with a thank you, and an open-ended timeframe for writing my next piece.

The trust this gift model embodies makes all the difference in the world. For one thing, since my Patreon campaign is still new, my day job must continue to take first priority for the time being. All writing projects must therefore be squeezed into my time off, which makes meeting deadlines a challenge. But there’s a much deeper benefit, too. When my patrons demonstrate their trust in me by pledging their support without expecting me to produce on a set schedule, I feel appreciated. It makes me want to deliver the best work I possibly can. By contrast, when people buy a product or service from me, that extra spirit of appreciation that a gift carries isn’t there. It’s an economic transaction, and nothing more. When I receive a gift of open-ended patronage, my response is deep gratitude, and the writing I produce under these conditions embodies the spirit of the gift also. As David Spangler writes: “A relationship that is coerced or that is dealt with as a transaction is never as powerful nor as rewarding as one in which all concerned willingly give of themselves.” Indeed. But before Patreon arrived on the scene, there was no viable way for me to carry out this working-in-the-gift vision as a writer without making difficult financial sacrifices myself.

I think it’s very important to be clear that I am working within a gift model rather than a sale-based one, because if I were operating a storefront, my patrons would have reasonable and clearly defined expectations for me to deliver what they’d purchased within an agreed-upon time frame. That works quite well for some creators, on Patreon and elsewhere. For me, not so much.

On a gift model, my patrons are expressing appreciation for work I’ve already written. They are also expressing their trust that, if I’m given the freedom to work on my own terms, I will continue to write more that’s worth their time to read. That trust goes a long way toward removing coercive elements from interfering with my creative process. My fickle and rebellious Muses will beat a hasty retreat at even the faintest hint of coercion. “It takes as long as it takes,” they insist. (I envy writers whose Muses cooperate readily with deadlines. It’s something I aspire to. Maybe if I court them – ply them with Muse-treats – someday it’ll happen for me, too. Even if it does, though, my Patreon campaign will still be run on a gift model, for a whole host of reasons.)

From my side, all the writing I release is also given as a gift. On Patreon I am free to release my work as I wish, without charging anyone an up-front fee to access it. This way, people who can’t or don’t want to be my patrons can still read my finished pieces online without spending money. And people who want to contribute, and are comfortable enough to do so, are given an easy and convenient way to do so.

…it provides an income to support creative work I’d be doing anyway.

I write every day. I’ve been writing since I was a child, and will continue to do so as long as I’m able, whether or not patronage is available. Words and ideas come to me – sometimes at the most inopportune times possible – and insist that they be written down, whether I like it or not.

Fortunately, writing brings me great fulfillment, as long as I can do it on my own terms. Even on the toughest and most frustrating days, I still love the process of sitting down and cranking out words. It’s a form of sacred service for me. Working within a gift model through Patreon preserves that meaningful service motivation in my creative process. While I need to pay my bills somehow, I decided long ago that I would not write for a living, because it introduces coercive elements that compromise the spirit of the work. When I’m writing for the sake of “earning a living” (I like to put that phrase in quotes to emphasize its absurdity), the goal is to prove my mettle in the capitalist marketplace, under the constant threat that money I need to meet my basic survival needs will be withheld if I don’t. My Muses sure don’t like them apples. In fact, one of the main purposes of the writing and activism I’ve done for the past 20 years is to help hasten the arrival of the day when the need for everyone to “earn a living” becomes a thing of the past.

Let me be clear: when I say I’m opposed to “earning a living,” what I oppose is the obligation to sell my time to employers to survive. I’m not opposed to commerce in general, nor am I opposed to receiving financial support from people who enjoy my work. To some, this distinction is merely semantic, but I strongly disagree. Working within a gift model is a different animal altogether from “earning a living.” They’re not even in the same ballpark, in fact. The former is driven by trust and appreciation; the latter is driven by coercion, implicit threat, and fear.

If I start writing for the money, my work becomes compromised, and my readers can tell the difference immediately. Some writers can churn out brilliant, inspired work even when their primary motivation to do so is monetary. I, however – a writer blessed (cursed?) with fickle, rebellious, stubborn Muses – have learned that I am not one of them. Whether or not my writing makes money has to be irrelevant – which is a difficult thing for me to manage in an extreme capitalist culture that recognizes no other means of deeming something of value than its ability to make money. So the only responsible way for me to release the writing I do for its own sake is as a gift. Until Patreon came along, there was no viable way for me to do both of these things – offer my work as a gift and also have hope of being able to pay my bills, if enough people supported my work.

When I am working in the spirit of the gift – as I am always doing whenever I am free to write on my own terms, rather than those of the capitalist marketplace – my creative flow, too, is gifted to me from a source beyond myself. That’s why I consider my writing a form of sacred service. Therefore, any price I might charge for the finished work feels strangely like both too much and too little. (Thanks to Charles Eisenstein, one of my favorite writers, for this insight.) On a gift model, and with sufficient patronage, I won’t have to charge a price at all – yet I will still be supported.

…for some artists, it offers a viable path out of the artists’ dilemma.

Without the privilege of patronage, spousal support, or a trust fund, my choices as a writer who wants to work within a gift model are limited to:

1) spending most of my time doing wage labor (assuming I’m “lucky” enough to find a job, that is) while my gift writing takes second priority, and/or

2) being broke and relying on charity (i.e., means-tested, woefully inadequate forms of government support) while I write.

That’s the artist’s dilemma in a nutshell. How do artists manage to fund the immense amounts of time and effort needed to create things worthy of being called art? For most, it’s either a day job or charity, or some combination of both. For some artists, Patreon has provided a way out of this dilemma that didn’t exist before.

Many people claim that “art should be free.” In a sense, they are right, as art ultimately belongs to the realm of the gift. But we live in a world where only those of a certain level of economic privilege can develop their creative talents and gift them to the world without compromising their ability to survive financially. Patreon is the first widely available option – as far as I know, at least – that does not require creators to compromise their artistic vision and creative freedom in order to receive financial support.

…it can free me to release my work online without fear of piracy.

The internet has made it trivially easy to copy and distribute many artists’ work at little to no cost. This ease of reproduction is one factor involved in the rise of crowdfunding platforms. But it’s also a double-edged sword, as it means the model of selling creative work in order to fund more of it has become even more insufficient for many artists. Artists often find to their dismay that their work has been taken without paying them, and used to make money for someone else. Artists invest years of their lives into their work; it’s unconscionable for our culture to leave them high and dry financially simply because their work has been released online and technology has made it easier for it to be copied.

As a writer, setting up my Patreon on a gift model offers the possibility of freeing me from worry about the way that unauthorized copying might impact my personal financial bottom line. I retain all copyrights to work I’ve posted on Patreon; I can always post it elsewhere. And I want everyone who’s interested to be able to read my writing, whether or not they’ve paid. Patreon opens the way toward this possibility for me: with sufficient patronage, one day I’ll be able to pay my bills regardless of whether or not my writing is copied. That means there will be no financial motive for me to waste precious writing time pursuing people who copy and distribute my work without my consent, since they will not be impacting my ability to survive.

There are other reasons, of course, that I might decide to go after someone who uses my work without my consent for their own gain. But at least with Patreon, I needn’t do so for the hope of preserving my ability to eat and keep a roof over my head.

As a patron myself, I appreciate the fact that a great deal of the music, art, and writing I enjoy is readily available in digital format these days. I support digital art and music financially because it’s worth it on its own merits, but also because I want to contribute toward building a world where artists aren’t forced to take day jobs and give up art because they can’t sell enough of their work to live on. Patreon allows me to offer more of that kind of support.

…it can help facilitate a sea change in the way we talk about funding artists.

Patreon is demonstrating to the world that many things people have become accustomed to getting for free online (i.e., YouTube videos) have financial value as well as artistic value. This is a long-overdue and welcome change, and has much to contribute to the ongoing conversation about arts funding.

It’s especially difficult, I think, to be an artist in the US – not just because there is so little financial support available for the arts, but also because US-based artists must constantly fight an uphill battle against the dominant norms of their own culture. The arts are widely considered frivolous, so artists are forced to spend a great deal of time justifying the value of their work, to themselves and to others. People don’t have much sympathy: “You want to be paid to sit around and doodle all day?” Why, yes! Yes I do! And I want everyone else to have that option too, because I have faith in their creative spirit. I mean, think about it. Healthy human beings can only watch so many mindless TV shows before it gets boring and they start feeling the urge to do something productive or creative with their time. With enough of those days of paid doodling, the doodler’s skills would improve, and they would eventually be offering something of great value to their communities: art. Patreon opens more doors for that sort of thing to happen.

But even if it didn’t – even if the doodler never produced anything that could reasonably be called art – what, I ask in all sincerity, is the harm in making sure everyone has a roof over their head, health care, clothes to wear, and decent food to eat, regardless of whether or not they are productive?

…it can help facilitate a cultural shift toward recognizing and properly valuing creative and emotional labor.

When people aren’t paid for their creative work, the only people who can continue to create are the ones who have financial support from other sources. As a feminist, I am thrilled to see creative people – especially women, whose work is so often taken for granted and unsupported – bringing in enough funding through Patreon to not only quit their day jobs, but to demonstrate that there is an audience that values their work enough to support it financially.

The fact that an alternative like Patreon exists provides us with an additional incentive to take on the demanding emotional labor of unraveling and countering the many layers of social and cultural conditioning that tell us our work isn’t valuable and we should just get “real jobs.” It’s a safe bet that for most of us, by the time we’ve mustered up the courage to put our work out there and seek patronage, we’ve done a great deal of this kind of preparatory emotional labor behind the scenes.

Patreon is flexible enough to serve as a platform for financially supporting not only art, videos, comics, music, and writing, but also activism, web forum moderation, community building work, and many other kinds of behind-the-scenes work that so often go unappreciated. For the most part, artists who have a following that is willing to support their work can use Patreon to help make that a reality.

…it allows for work interruptions in ways that project-based crowdfunding does not.

If I have slow months and need to stop writing for awhile for whatever reason, my supporters aren’t left in the lurch, feeling that they paid into something but got nothing in return. If they do start to feel like they’re being cheated, they can simply withdraw their pledges. With platforms like Kickstarter, there have been numerous situations where the money was received and spent by the creator, but no product was ever created or shipped. In fact, I was on the losing end of one of those situations, and sadly, it soured me on the creator’s work, especially after my inquiries went unanswered. That isn’t a problem with a Patreon account set up on a gift model.

(If extended silences on my part were to continue for too long with no explanation, I expect that some of my supporters would decide to opt out, and they’d be justified in doing so. This is arts patronage, after all, not charity.)

…it offers flexibility on both sides of the patron-artist relationship.

Patreon is well-suited for people who have the skills to build a career around their art or craft, but haven’t yet been able to make enough money to devote themselves fully to it. Patreon contributions buy them the time they need to create, by making it less necessary to work at a day job to cover their expenses.

Creators can decide how much effort they want to put into fulfilling their Patreon rewards, anywhere along the spectrum from “minimal” to “substantial.” Patrons can decide whether or not to support a creator based on their level of interest in the work and/or the appeal of the various rewards offered.

I seek patronage in order to buy myself more time to write, so I don’t offer my patrons perks that take time away from my writing. I’m glad Patreon gives me that flexibility. If maintenance of my Patreon account itself became a time sink that interfered with my ability to write, it would defeat the whole purpose.

(And while I’m at it…one of the things I plan to write more about is how absurd and frustrating it is that our culture puts us in a position where we are forced to find ways to “buy back” our own time – because, as things stand now, employers have priority claims on it by default – in order to survive.)

…it automates pledges.

Automated pledges are wonderful for both sides of a patronage arrangement. They free creators from having to send out reminders, and free supporters from having to remember when to donate.

Creators don’t want to have to constantly remind people that they need support. Patreon provides a way for the creators to ask just once, and for the patrons to select their contribution level just once. Then everyone carries on with their lives. Meanwhile, creators keep on getting paid and are freed to focus on their art, and supporters keep on feeling good because they know they’re making more of the art possible.  If they really like what the creator posts, they can increase their pledge any time. Win-win.

(Creators who are trying to expand their patronage do, of course, need to keep reminding people that their Patreon account exists. But once they’ve managed to attract a critical mass of supporters, they’re home free, because receiving the pledges is automated.)

…it encourages expression of appreciation.

Since I’ve released my writing on a gift model for a long time before Patreon came along – in 2004, I even gifted away an influential website (whywork.org) that I spent many years developing – I’ve occasionally been asked:

Why should anyone pay for your writing when they could read it for free?

One answer is that they recognize that the writing they’re getting “for free” (I prefer to say “as a gift,” because that’s what it is) has many years of time, effort, and skill-building behind it, and they want to recognize and honor that work. Another answer is that they want to express appreciation – to let me know that my work has enriched their lives somehow. A third is that they want to make it possible for me to write more. It can also be a way to connect and say a personal thank you without obligating either side to enter into a more time-consuming sort of interpersonal relationship.

Sure, there are people who will read it “for free” – some who do so just because they can get away without paying, some who like it but not enough to support it financially in an ongoing fashion, and others who would be happy to pay for it but just can’t afford to be a patron. That’s all perfectly fine with me, and fully expected. However, there are also plenty of people who, when given a chance – especially when reminded that there’s a person behind the writing they enjoy, and that person needs to pay bills too – will be happy to contribute. Those are the people who become patrons. Most audiences want to pay creators a reasonable amount for their work to express their appreciation, especially when they know the money will benefit them directly. Patreon has made it easy and convenient for them to do this.

…the support I receive through gift-model patronage multiplies.

If my patrons make it possible for me to write more by freeing me from the need to sell my time through wage labor, that blessing will open up more opportunities for me to be of service to others as well. Proofreading other writers’ work, for example – something I very much enjoy – contributes to the artistic excellence that makes it possible for them to attract patronage, and deliver the best possible work to their audience. By freeing people to do what they’re best at, Patreon therefore opens more possibilities for our communities to be doubly enriched.

When creators work within a gift model, there need be no contradiction between what we would call self-interest and the interests of others, because gift models further both at the same time. Supporting a creator so that they can better be of service spreads abundance, rather than scarcity. I love the saying in volunteer communities that “it isn’t service unless both people are being served.” In other words, the person providing the service should receive as much (or more!) than they give. If this isn’t the case, it’s possible that they are simply doing the wrong kind of gift work for them. But the much more likely possibility is that the economy we have now is parasitically extracting real value away from those of us who do gift labor. Dig deeply enough, and it can be seen – as feminists have often pointed out – that the money system we have is actually dependent on gift culture and unpaid work.

With a Patreon campaign set up on a gift model, however, nobody has to lose out or be scammed at the expense of someone else. Outside of Patreon, if I want to offer my writing as a gift, I pay the price for doing so, because time spent working for free is time I can’t spend on something that brings in income to support myself. As a writer with gift patronage, though, I can get paid for creative work I’m already doing, and will continue to do one way or another. My writing can be made available to the public on a gift basis also, so whoever wants to read it may do so regardless of their ability to pay. I can set things up so that patrons only get perks that won’t interfere with my ability to write. Patreon gets a fair cut of my intake, in exchange for providing the service that makes all of this possible. And finally, Patreon has given me a solid reason to believe that one day, if all continues to go well, I may be able to leave behind wage labor and sustain myself with what I do best: writing. Everybody wins here; no one loses. Gift-model crowdfunding via Patreon is the closest thing to an unconditional basic income that is currently available to me. What’s not to love?

…it opens more possibilities to work with ease.

I have always believed that work need not feel like soul-numbing drudgery, suffering, or struggle. Under the right conditions, even the most mundane work can become satisfying and meaningful – even when it’s difficult, tedious, and demanding. At the moment, most of my income comes from my house cleaning jobs, so I have lots of opportunities to test this theory out!

One thing I’ve noticed that confounds the dominant culture’s work-is-drudgery norm is that my creative abilities seem to sharpen when I am free to enjoy idle moments of unstructured, aimless play, without any expectation whatsoever (whether it’s self-imposed, or imposed by others) that I should be productive. Few creative people are fortunate enough to work under conditions that promote such ease and joy, however, especially when we’re trapped in the belly of a beastly culture in which our value as human beings is routinely judged by our productivity. Using Patreon on a gift model can open more possibilities in the direction of working with ease, one creator at a time.

Conscious effort is only one element of what’s involved in valuable creative work. The best work I am capable of, I’ve found, arises through the back-and-forth interplay of structured effort and relaxed ease. Leisure is not just a way-station to refresh us on the way to more work. It is an integral, inseparable, essential part of the creative process. (I’ll have more to say about this in my book On The Leisure Track: Rethinking the Job Culture. If you’d like to help ensure that I have time and energy to finish writing it, you can become a patron!)

Gift-model patronage through Patreon is the biggest, most encouraging step toward making it possible for creators to work with ease that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.

…it helps me unlearn the internalized Protestant work ethic.

Writers Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, in their recent book Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work, offer this astute and thought-provoking insight: “The central ideological support for the work ethic is that remuneration be tied to suffering…People must endure through work before they can receive wages…they must prove their worthiness before the eyes of capital.”

Our culture enforces this toxic “you must suffer to earn money” ideology in all kinds of ways. One of the things I can do to resist this harmful enculturation is to affirm that work – even paid work – should involve joy and pleasure. To do this at deep levels, I must take on the emotional labor of rooting out all the manifestations of this Protestant work ethic in my own thoughts and behavior – not an easy task, because some of those elements are deceptively subtle. To take just one example, consider a situation where I decide to give myself a reward for working. The need for a reward presupposes an adversarial relationship between me and the work. (True gift work, by contrast, is its own reward…even when it’s difficult.) And where might I have picked up the idea that remunerative work must entail suffering? Why, at the hands of the Protestant work ethic, of course. If left to our own devices, so the argument goes, people would do nothing but lie on the couch watching Netflix and eating bonbons, and no one would ever do any work. So work is something I must be goaded to do against my will – something I must endure. A reward is what I deserve at the end – but only because I’ve earned it properly with my suffering.

There’s a chapter in On The Leisure Track, my in-progress book, with the working title “Do What You Love, Lazy Bums Who Refuse To Work, and Other Lies of Job Culture.” In this chapter, I unpack and critique various ideological and behavioral manifestations of the Protestant work ethic, and use personal narratives as a lens through which to illustrate the processes of mental and emotional labor involved in unlearning them.

Those manifestations are many, and they are deeply rooted. However, there’s good news: if we are committed to unlearning other forms of oppressive cultural conditioning – racism, queer-phobia, transphobia, fat shaming, sexism, classism, and so on – we can use the tools and methods we’ve acquired in that work to help us unlearn the internalized Protestant work ethic as well.

Patreon can serve this unlearning process well, too. By making it possible for more and more creators to be paid for doing work they love, Patreon is helping to give lie to the ideology that underlies the work ethic: that remuneration must be tied to suffering.

Never underestimate the power of that. It is changing lives. Thank you, Patreon.

…it is not charity.

In a recent article in Jacobin magazine, writer Keith A. Spencer critiques Patreon as part of a social model of charity that “perpetuates the illusion that capitalism is basically just.” “Crowdsourcing our basic human needs,” Spencer writes, “implies that the welfare state has failed…In its place, we are offered a world where our value is based on how much donors think we’re worth.”

I’m certainly under no illusions that capitalism is “basically just.” I think Spencer is absolutely right to critique the charity model. The social safety net we have in the US is woefully inadequate at best; that is easily seen just by scrolling through social media these days and witnessing the endless stream of crowdfunding campaigns from struggling people in need of things like emergency dental care or child support. Nonetheless, I think Patreon is far and away the most emancipatory crowdfunding alternative available today for artists who can attract even a modest following. I think it’s a big mistake to lump it in with platforms that focus on charitable giving, because Patreon is not charity. It’s not “free money,” even when it’s used on a gift model. It is patronage. Supporters aren’t “donors”; they are patrons of the arts.

As basic income activist Scott Santens has written: “By encouraging people to pursue their passions and at the same time earn incomes from doing so, people are one by one becoming emancipated in a way that is new in the world. This kind of freedom hasn’t really existed before…Patreon is emancipatory because patrons aren’t paying creators to work. They’re freeing creators to create.”

As for what I’m worth…well, as I write these words, I am receiving approximately $50 per month from my patrons. That may not sound like much. But since the results of my fruitless and demoralizing job-hunt in recent years would seem to indicate that I’m currently worth nothing at all to employers, and since the federal government has made it clear in no uncertain terms that I’m only worthy of receiving food benefits if I can prove I’m doing 20 hours per week of state-approved “work activities,” $50 a month given freely – by people who like my creative work and want to enable me to do more of it – makes an enormous difference in my life. Especially because the funds were given to me as a gift, and an expression of trust and appreciation. I didn’t have to suffer for them. I didn’t have to earn them through wage labor. I didn’t have to fill out countless forms and endure insults to my intelligence and dignity in order to prove to my patrons that I’m worthy of being fed, the way I do when I apply for government assistance. The money was given freely, not begrudgingly.

Never underestimate the effect that kind of trust and support can have on a writer like me who lives close to the financial bone. I don’t have any desire to strike it rich. My desire is to be of service to the world by finding ways to do the work I’m best at within a gift model, instead of shoehorning myself into an ill-fitting job to make money. I want everyone else to have that option too, of course, which is one of the reasons I support unconditional basic income. How can creative people be of service to the world when we’re so drained from poorly fitting jobs that we cling to because we desperately need to put food on the table?

That $50 I receive from my patrons every month may not yet be enough to free me from wage labor, but it comes to me in the spirit of the gift, which makes it worth far more to me than its face value. It tells me that my patrons believe in me and my work, and that is priceless.

Think of Patreon not as charity, but as harm reduction for a certain segment of the arts world, and a step toward demonstrating the liberating potential of unconditional basic income for creators. Within the context of a capitalist system that is already fundamentally oppressive in its requirement that we sell our labor and time to survive, Patreon can fill some deep needs – needs that, in the absence of an unconditional basic income, many artists are unable to fill any other way.

That’s why I love Patreon.

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(Thanks for reading!  If you enjoyed this piece and would like to help make it possible for me to write more, please consider becoming a patron.)

Unjobbing is a Process

I often remind myself that unjobbing is a process, and not a destination.

It’s not somewhere I end up.  It’s more like a meandering trail through a dense forest, with switchbacks, elevation changes, and occasional backtracking when I get lost.  Sometimes it leads into uncharted territory, and I find myself wondering what to do next.  If I can muster the courage to brave the hazards of blazing my own trail, I forge ahead.

Unjobbing can be approached as a conscious choice – a commitment to be made after realizing that life is too short to spend so much of it in a job I hate, just for the sake of earning money.  It can be a decision to unlearn conventional notions about jobs, work, and leisure, in order to make room for a new way of life.

Unjobbing can also be something done out of necessity, or a need for survival, when it becomes clear that the old approaches won’t work any longer.  Given the current state of our economy, many highly educated and qualified people who nonetheless can’t find conventional jobs are now finding themselves in this place, and they (we) are letting go of illusions that finding a good job will provide them with security or “financial independence.”

Or perhaps you can walk the unjobbing path like I do: through a mix of necessity and conscious choice.  You can just muddle through one step at a time, pick yourself up when you stumble and fall (and you will, many times), and see where it leads.

Right now, I’m staring out into uncharted territory.  Instead of feeling trepidation, however, I feel strangely and deeply at peace.  Somehow I have the sense that I’ll be able to navigate the terrain ahead without a map.

Culturally speaking, I’m privileged: white, middle-class, and highly educated.  Though I’ve faced some difficult and demoralizing financial struggles and endured years of minimum-wage drudgery, I’ve never known true poverty.  Yet for the past few years – especially since an unwanted divorce in 2007 left me financially devastated and buried under an avalanche of grief, brokenness, rage, and despair – I have been driven by a primal kind of fear: the fear of scarcity.

For years, I have made too many of my decisions from this place of primal fear.

There are many things I’ve learned while walking this path.  I’ve learned in countless ways that the greater my ability to live simply, the lower my debt, and the greater my ability to refuse consumer goods, the less need I have for conventional jobs…and the less I am forced to participate in the ecological destruction that is driven by the extractive money economy.  I’ve learned that the less need I have for earning money, the less time I need to spend in “full time” paid employment, and the more freedom I have to shape my life according to my ecological values and the guidance of deeper forces.  These lessons have served me well.

I’ve also learned that every single moment of my life, consciously or not, I am making decisions about how to spend my time and energy, and where and how to direct my attention.  Even in the most constrained circumstances I’ve faced in life, it has become clear to me that I still have a certain element of choice, and I can exercise it to the best of my ability.  In this truth lies a great source of power.

I may be broke in monetary terms, but I am not broken in spirit.

I may not have a job, but I am not “unemployed.”

In fact, I am wealthy.  While I don’t have a job or much money, I do have immense wealth, for which I feel great appreciation and gratitude.  I live and move about in a world of fundamental abundance, and I don’t mean this in some flighty New Age way.  I mean it very straightforwardly.  I have a roof over my head, food in my cupboards, and no immediate threat of homelessness.  I live in a beautiful city that I adore.

But there’s much, much more.

I am wealthy in time. Ah, what a great luxury time is!  I can go about my daily tasks in an unhurried, mindful manner.  I can wake up without an alarm clock.  I can enjoy my tea rituals at leisure.  I can work when my body is most inclined to do so, rather than at the behest of my employer.

I am wealthy in leisure. I firmly believe that true leisure is much more than an absence of job-related constraints on my time, and much more than “vegging out” with the aid of passive sources of entertainment.  Real leisure – the kind that restores me at a bone-deep level – contains a significant active and creative dimension as well.  Gradually, I am learning something difficult: how to allow myself to do nothing at all without shame or guilt.

Sometimes, a funny thing happens when I do this: words come to me.  Writing gushes out of me in torrents.  (It isn’t always good writing, mind you; that part comes later, after the editing and proofreading stage.)

I am wealthy in relationships. I have a wonderful and nourishing web of relationships: blood relatives with whom I am very close, friendships I cherish, acquaintances I like and with whom I share common interests, and correspondents with whom I enjoy exchanging ideas.

I am wealthy in education and skills. Advanced reading comprehension and writing skills, three baccalaureate-level university degrees, research skills, critical thinking, autodidactic abilities, a lifelong bookworm’s passion for reading and learning – all of these are gifts, and I do not take any of them for granted.

I am wealthy in time alone and ability to enjoy solitude. As an introvert and loner, regular and copious time alone is essential for me; I would be but a shadow of my real self without it.  Divorce-related grief robbed me of the ability to enjoy my time alone for quite some time.  Being abandoned by a loved one taught me a lot about the difference between loneliness and solitude, as well as the complex (and paradoxical!) relationship between intimacy and solitude.  Once again, at long last, I have been gifted with the capacity to take deep nourishment from solitude.

And that’s just a start.  I could go on and on!

With this kind of abundance and freedom in my life, I needn’t be driven by the kind of artificial scarcity perpetuated by the money system.

While it’s true that I will continue to need to use money as a means to an end – my utility bills can’t currently be paid with barter arrangements or work-trades, after all – I know in my bones that I don’t need to believe the stories that say I must live in fear of scarcity any longer.

So here is my vow.

I hereby commit myself to walk the sacred path of radical unjobbing.  I will continue to deeply question and unlearn the fundamental assumptions of the job culture, and use my gifts in the service of helping others to do the same.  I will continue to critically examine any beliefs, attitudes, stories, habits, and systemic factors that keep me mired in the muck of artificial scarcity.

Henceforth, I shall live as much of my life as possible within the abundance of the gift culture.

Thank you, and Hail to the Powers That Be.

I am a radical unjobber because…

I am a radical unjobber because I believe people should have lives based on living, not on making a living.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe that leisure is more than “free time”.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe in an ecological ethic of service, interdependence, and care…not a “work ethic.”

I am a radical unjobber because I don’t believe people’s value in a relationship, family, or community should be diminished because they do not have jobs or earn wages.  Having a job and making a “contribution to society” is not a measure of worth, and people should not be expected to work to justify their existence any more than a tree or a river should.  (I do believe that most people have a desire to be useful and creative, rather than just being consumers; we need to find ways for people to fulfill this desire outside the wage economy, as there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around, even for those who want jobs.)

I am a radical unjobber because, although I’m not “anti-work,” I am critical of jobs and the entire job culture.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe there is an important and oft-overlooked difference between work and jobsWork is intrinsically worth doing, and may or may not involve earning money.  A job is a set of tasks performed for wages or other compensation, and controlled by an employer.  (The two are not mutually exclusive; I’ll have plenty more to say about this in future writings.)

I am a radical unjobber because I believe in the importance of rethinking our cultural and societal assumptions about the proper relationship between work and leisure.

I am a radical unjobber because I have spent my entire adult life trying to figure out ways to live a life that is not based around earning income, and encouraging people to find ways to live a less job-centered life in general.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe that freedom from the job culture is an inside job that starts (but doesn’t end) within the minds and hearts of human beings – which means, among other things, that it is possible to be free of wage slavery even if you hold a conventional job.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe in not letting whatever you do for income interfere with your life’s work.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe lowering expenses is preferable to increasing income through having a job.  Like Amy Dacyczyn (author of “The Tightwad Gazette”), I prefer the luxury of freedom from a job to the luxury of material goods.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe “do what you love, the money will follow” is essentially a lie. Though there is a kernel of wisdom in that saying, it’s often misinterpreted as “if you can find a job you love, eventually you’ll earn money.”  Not everyone can do what they love through finding a job, and it isn’t their own fault; that’s simply not the way the economy functions.  Conventional jobs in the wage economy have an underlying purpose, and it is not to allow people do what they love.  It is to facilitate the movement of money, and concentrate wealth in the hands of the elite.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe the job culture impoverishes us by creating conditions where so many of us are forced to abandon our Work to take jobs, and then impoverishes us even more by diminishing our opportunities for true restorative leisure.

I am a radical unjobber because I don’t believe that paid work is inherently more valuable than unpaid work.

I am a radical unjobber because I resist the brainwashing that paints people who don’t have a job in the wage economy as idle, lazy, parasitic, undeserving, good-for-nothing, worthless, or not trying hard enough.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe money (and the need to earn it through wage jobs) is the ultimate root cause of the ecological destruction we face.  However, I am not inherently “anti-money” and I accept money without guilt or shame, since I live in a world that has made it near-impossible to function without it.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe in the value of working toward urban and rural interdependent self-sufficiency and homesteading skills (growing and preserving food, fiber arts, home brewing, cooking, baking, home building, passive solar design, etc.) as paths to freedom from the job culture.

I am a radical unjobber because I encourage people to dig deep and think critically about the toxic cultural messages we’ve absorbed about jobs, work, and money, and to do the hard work of uprooting them so that healthy attitudes can be consciously cultivated in their place.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe in the value of barter, gift economies, alternative currencies, community currencies, basic income schemes, and other alternatives to the use of money earned through conventional jobs.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe in small-scale farming, cottage industries, local production of goods, and in the value of handcrafted items made with love and care.

I am a radical unjobber because I want to live simply, mindfully, consciously, and deliberately…and I encourage others to do the same.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe that energy descent, climate change and resource depletion will require radical changes to our current way of life, and because I want to free myself and others from the demands of conventional jobs so that we can collectively devote as much time as possible to the necessary and urgent work of preparing for a different way of life.

I am a radical unjobber because I have made a conscious choice to live a car-free or low-car life as much as possible, in order to minimize expenses and dependence on earned income from jobs, as well as for health and ecological reasons.  (I am fortunate to live in a pedestrian-friendly city with great public transit, which makes this much easier to do.)

I am a radical unjobber because I have chosen not to have children, partly in order to maximize my leisure, reduce my ecological footprint, and lessen the income I need to earn.  (There are other reasons too, of course, such as the fact that I have never had a desire to be a parent.)

I am a radical unjobber because I believe that the best work is the kind that is done with joy, and if we are unable to take any joy in our work, it is a sign that something, somewhere, is fundamentally wrong.

I am a radical unjobber because I don’t believe success in a conventional job is necessarily proof of value, skill, or intelligence.  Often, it’s simply an indication that someone is well-connected, wealthy, status-driven, and/or willing to play the game.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe in the value of thrift and frugality (as distinguished from cheapness) as a way of life that brings joy and increased freedom from the need to earn job income.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe it’s possible (even preferable!) to live very well far below the official “poverty line,” and in fact I am doing it right now, as I write this.  What matters is access to resources – food, shelter, clean water, health care, etc.  Money can facilitate this access, but it is ultimately nothing more than a means to an end; it should never be mistaken for real wealth.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe in asking radical questions: the kind that get to the roots of the problems, rather than “hacking away at the branches” (thanks to H.D. Thoreau for that phrase.)

I am a radical unjobber because I believe philosophies and practices such as deep ecology/ecophilosophy, ecopsychology, systems thinking, permaculture, Earth-centered ritual, herbalism, sacred plant medicine, folk magic, religious mysticism, polytheism, animism, feminism, LGBTQ rights, arts & crafts, music & dance, neo-tribal and village living, hunting and gathering, wildcrafting, home-based organic gardens, natural building, the tiny house movement, gift giving, barter, community currencies, and simple living all have an important role to play in building a world outside the job culture.

I am a radical unjobber because I consider indigenous peoples’ sovereignty and land-based ways of life/work to be essential.  In particular, I take inspiration from the Himalayan Ladakhi peoples and the peoples of the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan in thinking about how to repair our ecosystems and build a happier, less job-centered, less money-centered culture.

I am a radical unjobber because I believe that if enough of us can learn skills to support our basic needs, and can learn to do this work in an interdependent way…then together we can figure out ways to support each other using as little money as possible, and outside the bounds of conventional employment.  I believe extended families, villages and tribes should support each other in times of need, instead of clinging to an ideal of “independence” that does not serve our needs.  (The falseood that there is such a thing as a “self-made man” is so widely promoted in the media because it serves the needs of the elite.)

I am a radical unjobber because I believe that if we want to get out of the job culture, we will need to get the job culture out of us.

I am a radical unjobber because when I am asked what I do for a living, I respond with “I work for the land.”  The natural world is my teacher.

A question for you to ponder, dear readers: Are you a radical unjobber?  Why or why not?

Money Vs. Real Wealth

Greetings, Un-Jobbers.  Though it’s been many moons since my last post, I want you to know that I have not given up on this site.  I’m here, I’m still (miraculously!) job-free, and I will make new posts whenever I can.

I do want to tell you what happened to derail my participation for so many months, though, aside from some health struggles.

Very soon after I started this blog in a burst of inspiration in June 2010, I received some harshly worded e-mail in which my motives were called into question, and I was rudely maligned.  I was first taken to task for posting my old essays here, and then righteously accused of starting this blog solely out of an interest in making money.

This baffled and disheartened me, and I did not take it well.  For many months it pretty much smothered my fledgling hopes for rebuilding this project.  My critic probably did not know that I had tried for years to figure out a way to live outside the formal money economy as much as possible, and discovered to my dismay that while I had a certain degree of latitude to minimize my participation in it, I would never be able to “drop out” entirely.  I took the criticism to heart, and it got to me.  Part of the problem was that I was still attempting to rebuild my life and regain a sense of hope after an unwanted divorce that left me feeling painfully alone and wiped me out financially, so I was quite fragile and totally unprepared to cope with such nay-sayers right out of the gate.

Normally, I’d let these things roll right off my back.  But that takes a certain degree of resilience, which happened to be in very short supply for me at the time.  Social support for me and the original spirit of whywork.org has also been in very short supply, as the old forum is mostly dead, and I have sadly lost touch with most of the people who were around in the early days of the site.  So I retreated.

Now, after some months away and some building of fresh new social connections, I feel stronger and more hopeful.  (And I am prepared to delete all rude e-mails hereafter, without a second thought.)

But just in case there’s anyone out there who’s wondering, let me clarify: Radical Un-Jobbing (and its old incarnation, Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery) has always been a labour of love, and even a calling for me.  I have never made a dime from it, and I have never approached it with personal gain in mind.  (I’m a writer and introvert who relishes solitude and instinctively avoids the limelight; the thought of my work bringing me fame and riches actually makes me feel anxious, not inspired.)

Keep in mind that I am not opposed to being paid for my work, and I have gladly done other kinds of freelance writing as a business.  However, my work with Radical Un-Jobbing is an offering – to you, the reader, as well as to the Old Ones, the community, and the land that supports me.  I have taken a vow to operate with full integrity, and made a commitment to always keep my approach ethical and transparent.  I will never put money over honour.  Nor will I refuse money if it is offered, as I have learned through experience that it is extremely difficult – if not impossible – to survive outside the money economy.  If any money ever does come to me (through any source – donations, royalties, gifts, a digital “tip jar,” or whatever) as a direct result of my work with Radical Un-Jobbing, I will:

1)     Never mistake any currency I might receive for real wealth.  Real wealth, as I define it, consists of: healthy soil, nutritious food, clean air and water, intact forests, loving relationships, interdependent community networks with strong ties to the land, good health, quality tools, shelter, wisdom, respect, a sense of home and belonging, and useful skills.

2)     Use it frugally, honorably and responsibly, in ways that allow any benefits I personally obtain to ultimately be used in service of building real wealth (as defined above) and enhancing the community that supports me.

Make of that what you will.

My thinking has changed a great deal over the years since I started whywork.org, and you will see that reflected in my new writings.  For one thing, I’m in my early forties now; losses have seasoned me and altered my perspective, and to a certain extent I’ve lost the smug, sassy, thumb-my-nose-at-the-world tone that can be found in my early writings.  You will see far fewer buzzwords here, and a lot more introspective and heartfelt reflections inspired by my heightened sense of ecological awareness.

And look out, nay-sayers, ‘cause I’m back.  Say what you will, but you will NOT keep me down this time.

Onward!